A Tradition-ful Advent:
Lights on the Christmas Tree
A Little History:
It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. As he passed under the rustling branches of the evergreens, it seemed to him that miniature stars were dancing in the trees all around him. In a moment, he was caught up in an unexpected wave of worship as he was overwhelmed with the awesome beauty of God’s creation. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room of his home and wired its branches with lighted candles. The Luther home began to dance with twinkling lights and Psalms 19:1 came alive. The Luther family wasn’t the only ones captivated by this sight, and the tradition soon caught on. However, as you can imagine, this tradition posted a serious risk of fire. So the candles would remain lit only for a few minutes per night, and even then families would sit around the tree and watch it vigilantly, buckets of sand and water nearby. “It’s kind of like the old-timey equivalent of deep-frying a turkey: People knew it could burn their house down, but proceeded to do it anyway.” (Quote from Chris Jacob, but it was too funny, so I had to include it.)
In the 1880’s, Thomas Edison took the lighting of the tree to a new level with his incandescent light bulbs. Edison was known for his wacky publicity stunts, always looking for ways to market his new invention. An Edison crony named Edward Johnson displayed the first electrically illuminated Christmas tree at his home in Manhattan as just that – a advertising tool. People were enamored, however, it was well out of the reach of most Americans. In 1900, a single string of electric lights cost $12 —around $300 in today’s money. It would take a few more decades and the magic of mass manufacturing to create the affordability that would enable neighborhood light displays as we see today.
The lights on the tree can remind us like Luther and his family of the majesty of God and the awesome beauty of his creation. Sometimes in all the hustle and bustle and modern technology, we forget to stop and be awed by the intricacy and beauty of God’s creation. With all our inventions and knowledge, our hearts are still captivated by the simplest of his creations – a starry night and a crackling fire.
The lights also remind us of Jesus, he came that Christmas to be the light of the world. In him there is no darkness.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it …. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:4-5,9-14
This is the Christmas Light, the living Word becoming flesh, making his dwelling among us, and dazzling those with eyes to see.
Verse(s) to Remember:
“The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship” Psalms 19:1
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12
Ideas to Make it Stick:
- String lights on the Christmas tree, or on the bedroom trees we talked about in yesterday’s post about The Christmas Tree
- Go outside and look at the stars tonight – talk about the beauty of God’s creation and how big our God is to create it.
- Have a bonfire or a light a fire in the fireplace and talk about how fire light is still one of the most captivating sights. Roast some marshmallows and make s’mores or enjoy a cup of hot apple cider with it!
- Draw a picture of a Christmas tree on a starry night.
Please feel free to share with friends and leave comments… Do you have other connections between the tradition and the heart of the holiday? Creative ideas to make it stick? I’d love to know what you and your family do with this!